Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 7:21 am | Overcast 58º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Spike in Valley Fever Cases Locally Matches Statewide Trend

Increase does not appear to be related to Thomas Fire, Montecito debris flows, according to public health investigation

 

A growing number of valley fever cases in Santa Barbara County does not appear to be related to the Thomas Fire or Montecito debris flows, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department

But the reason for the increase, especially in the North County, remains a mystery, and may be related to the heavy rains following the drought since similar hikes have been seen throughout the state.

“We don’t really know the cause of the increase, but the increase matches an increase in California, which leads us to believe that this is not related to the disasters that we’ve recently had,” said Susan Klein-Rothschild, deputy director of the Public Health Department.

County public health investigators reviewed data from 56 patients, none of whom were firefighters. One did work on the Thomas Fire as a first responder. 

Most of the patients live in North County, which saw 47, or 85 percent, of the cases in the 27-month period reviewed.

The central section of the county logged five cases, or 9 percent, with only four cases, or 7 percent, living on the South Coast.

Two of the South Coast cases involve residents who had traveled to areas where valley fever commonly occurs.

A boost in the disease appears on par with statewide increases since 2015, a hike state health officials say is not completely understood but likely related to heavy rains that fell after the California drought.

In California, from January through April this year, the state recorded 2,948 cases compared to 1,105 in 2017 and 897 a year earlier, according to a tally of suspect, probable, and confirmed cases.

"With an increase in reported valley fever cases, it is important that people living, working, and travelling in California are aware of its symptoms, especially in the southern San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast, where it is most common," Dr. Karen Smith, California Department of Public Health director and state public health officer, said last fall.

"In these areas, anyone who develops flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, lasting two weeks or more, should ask their health care provider about Valley Fever.”

For Santa Barbara County during the first four months of 2018, 47 cases were identified compared to eight and six for the same time in two previous years, the state website said. 

In San Luis Obispo County, 132 cases for the first four months of the year were more than the 33 and 25 seen in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

Ventura County saw 107 through April 30, compared to 24 and 5 in prior years.

The state’s top county for valley fever was Kern with 1,009 cases, compared to 264 and 253. 

Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis or “cocci”, is caused by inhaling spores of a fungus known to exist in soil in the southwestern United States, particularly California and Arizona. 

People breathe in spores present in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed, such as during dirt moving associated with construction. 

Most infected people do not show signs of illness. Those who do become ill may have symptoms similar to other illnesses, including influenza or pneumonia, so Valley Fever is not always recognized. 

In rare cases, people can develop more severe disease such as infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin, or other organs. 

In February, the county Public Health Department became aware of concerns within the local health-care community of a potential link between increases in valley fever cases and the Thomas Fire and Jan. 9 debris flows.

Data was reviewed from January 2016 through March 2018 on the numbers of valley fever cases reported in the county and statewide.

“That’s really kind of a core public health function,” Klein-Rothschild said. “That’s exactly what we do. People go to their individual doctors to get their treatment.”

Public health workers look at trends of diseases and what might be causing increases, she added.

“Our ultimate goal is prevention — preventing people from getting ill.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >